Summit Edition 2009



Early Childhood Summit Overview

Speakers Focus on Economic Returns of Early Care and Education

Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care: Pilot Program is Leading Edge

Superintendents Share Four Districts' Early Education Efforts

Kindergarten Transition Grant Opportunity Announced

Commitment Card Results Report


summit logoTalking Dollars and Sense

Examining Early Childhood Programs’ Impressive Return on Investment

The research is in – proponents of high quality early care and education are adamant about the need for increased funding to support young children. They are spreading the word about the significant public return on investment that is realized for every dollar spent nurturing the very foundation of the future: young children.

summit audienceThe 150 superintendents, preK-12 educators, early childhood specialists, and other community members who attended the fourth annual Early Childhood Summit on May 6th didn't need necessarily to be told of the importance of investing in young children.

However, more and more economists, business people, and legislators are now being convinced, thanks to a growing body of research, of what those who work with children have long known. The long-term dividends to society in terms of reduced special education costs, increased literacy and graduation rates, crime reduction, higher household incomes, better physical and mental health, and a stronger tax base can be directly attributed to dollars wisely spent to support young children and adults who care for them.

“More sectors of the community may be convinced of the wisdom of investing early in young children if they understand that it's a smart bottom-line decision,” said Lynn Haglin, Northland Foundation Vice President and KIDS PLUS Director.

The Northland Foundation would like to thank Summit pariticipants and event sponsors for a productive, stimulating, and successful convening.



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Rolnick and Grunewald's
Lessons Learned

Their research and that of others in the field emphasizes the importance of the following tactics.

• Invest in quality

• Involve parents

• Start early (prenatal to age 5)

• Reach at-risk populations

• Teach cognitive and non-cognitive skills

• Bring these efforts to scale







Tips from Ready 4 K

• Tell your legislator that Head Start early learning programs only serve 1/3 of eligible children.
• Tell your legislator that quality early learning programs are not available to most families and that negative school outcomes affect us all.
• Ask your state legislator to support increased investment in quality early learning programs in Minnesota.
• Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
• Convene a Kitchen Table talk with friends, colleagues, faith peers, or community volunteers.



Smart Investments:
Gateways on the Path to Success

Birth to Grade 3

• Nurse home visiting programs

• Access to quality child care

• Social skills training

• Quality half-day preschool

• Class size reduction

• Intensive instruction

• Family support

Speakers Present Data Pointing to Economic Benefits

Case for Investing in and Advocating for Early Childhood is Rooted in Research and Evidence-based Practice

rob grunewaldRob Grunewald, Associate Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, launched the Summit agenda with “The Economic Case for Investments in Young Children”. In 2003, Grunewald published along with Arthur Rolnick, Ph.D., Vice President at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, a study which extrapolated the dollar-for-dollar public return on high-quality early care and education spending.

Grunewald noted that human capital – a qualified labor pool – is a key economic development tool, and quality early care and education play a proven role in children's likelihood of success in school and as an adult in the workforce. In fact, studies show that investments in the early years net the highest return not only to children and parents but to all taxpayers: up to $16 for every $1 spent. Among the measurable factors impacted by good early childhood programs are fewer students needing costly special education, higher household earnings (and higher tax contributions) by age 40, and reductions in criminal justice system costs.

The achievement gap between the children of college-educated parents and children living in poverty begins to show up at 18 months of age, said Grunewald, not surprising considering that young brains are making 700 neural connections per second from birth up to ages 3 or 4, far more than at any other stage of life.

Grunewald listed some of the model programs being implemented to bolster investment in early childhood, particularly of private dollars, such as those in Nebraska and Louisiana. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation continues to raise funds and awareness in support of its pilot program delivering home nurse visits and scholarships for quality child care and early education programs in five pilot sites.

todd otisTodd Otis took the podium next to share his insights into the current legislative cycle. Otis is the President of Ready 4 K, Minnesota's lead early education advocacy organization. According to Otis, the situation is actually quite encouraging. Despite a $5 billion state deficit, legislators are not inclined to reduce any early childhood funding.

“Northeastern Minnesota is ahead of the curve in a lot of ways,” said Otis. “This part of the state understands the links between early childhood education and economic development.”

Otis touched upon last year’s Department of Human Services grants for family, friend, and neighbor child care outreach (see article below). Minnesota was the first state to fund such an effort. One of six grant recipients statewide, the Northland Foundation along with four area school districts and early childhood coalitions, and other community partners collaborated on this groundbreaking work, earning Otis’ praise as being vanguards in the state and nation.

Finally, Otis strongly encouraged Summit participants to contact their legislators. He urged everyone to make their voices heard in support of early childhood funding legislation, as well as to thank those lawmakers who have voted accordingly. Ready 4 K distributed Kitchen Table Talk kits, also available on the Ready 4 K web site, which help guide the layperson in sharing information with others about early care and education.

Angie Eilers, Ph.D., Research and Policy Director at Growth & Justice, a Twin Cities based economic think tank, presented information from Growth & Justice’s angie eilers“Smart Investments” plan. This evidence-based proposal seeks, by the year 2020, to increase the number of Minnesota students completing post-secondary education by 50 percent. The plan pinpoints key developmental and academic benchmarks, proven methods to ensure students reach those benchmarks, and the associated costs – and cost savings – of implementing those methods in Minnesota.

Without such changes, said Eilers, Minnesota students who earn a post-secondary degree (now 52 percent) will shrink by a shocking 30 to 35 percent. Most troubling is that those students with no post high school education will not break out of the barely-getting-by bubble.

Smart Investments' recommendations begin with $120 million directed to early care and education for children birth to age 5, starting with home visits to at-risk pregnant mothers. Research has shown that these investments will result not only in children entering kindergarten ready to learn but students who are prepared to meet the future academic markers identified by Growth & Justice. Another $285 million invested in preK-grade 3, said Eilers, would save an estimated $1 billion in costs to remediate students who lag behind by the start of 4th grade.

“The early years are when we can do it well, do it right, and do it cost effectively,” said Eilers. For further information on Smart Investments, visit the Growth & Justice web site.

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Why is outreach to FFN caregivers important?

• In Minnesota, 70% of children ages 12 and under are cared for by a FFN caregiver on a regular basis.

• Only about 50 percent of young children are being reached through traditional early childhood programs in their communities.


FFN Initiative Partner Organizations

• Duluth Public Schools Early Childhood Family Education Program

• Carlton County Prenatal/Early Childhood Coalition

• Hermantown/Proctor Early Childhood Programs

• Lake Superior School District

• Child Care Resource & Referral,
Region 3

• Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging

• Duluth Public Library

• Arrowhead Library System

• United Way of Greater Duluth

• University of Minnesota Duluth

Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care Showcase

Region's Pilot Program Reaches Out to "Informal" Child Care Providers

The Northland Foundation’s Northland Alliance for Family, Friend, and Neighbor Child Care Provider Outreach and Support Initiative (FFN) was one of six pilot programs funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services in 2008.

This regional initiative was designed to connect with and support “informal” child care providers such as grandparents and other relatives, friends, and neighbors who care for children ages 0-5.

Molly Minkinnen, Ph.D., project evaluator for the initiative, Mary Lindgren, and Julie Bellehumeur presented Initiative highlights, findings, and insights on connecting with this often hard-to-reach group of individuals who provide care for up to 70 percent of Minnesota children.

“It has been an eye-opener as to how many preschool children in this region are cared for by FFN providers, many of whom are not 'plugged in' to our system of early care and education services,” said Minkinnen. “If we want to connect with all children in our communities, FFN services must be on our agendas.”

Julie Bellehumeur, a parent educator who provides project services through the Duluth Public Schools, shared information on the common strategies employed by the four partner sites: outreach, targeted trainings, special events called Play and Learns, and home visits. 

“The project has helped informal caregivers increase their knowledge and skills in relation to child development, first aid, early literacy, and social and emotional development. It has also helped build relationships and social connections among caregivers,” stated Bellehumeur.

Mary Lindgren of the Carlton County Prenatal/Early Childhood Coalition shared some of the insights gained from this nearly 20 month pilot program. Among the successful components were Play and Learn events and networking opportunities for grandparents who care for grandchildren. Effective outreach strategies included personal invitations and promotion of events through a variety of community venues such as libraries. Word of mouth was often the best advertising for the program. Strategies were not one size fits all, noted Lindgren; each community found certain strategies worked better than others.

Lindgren stressed the value the regional collaboration has had throughout the initiative. “Our partners were invaluable throughout the grant process – from writing the grant to programming to evaluation,” she said.

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Panelists, from left: Phil Minkinnen, Lake Superior Schools; Dave Bottem, Barnum; Aaron Fischer, Esko; and Phil Johnson, Virginia.

Superintendents Discuss Local Early Education Efforts

Barnum, Esko, Lake Superior, and Virginia Districts Represented

The importance of investing in early care and education was echoed during the afternoon by a panel of superintendents from four northeastern Minnesota school districts. 

David Bottem of Barnum, Aaron Fischer of Esko, Phil Johnson from Virginia, and Phil Minkkinen from Lake Superior Schools sat in for a discussion facilitated by the Northland Foundation's Lynn Haglin.

They touched upon the mounting research, especially in brain development, supporting early care and education investment and the necessity to understand how young children learn.

Current funding for early care and education, however, is limited. The Minnesota Department of Education web site states an average of $227 per pupil is allocated to early childhood programs compared with $9,772 for K-12. Adopting an E-16 (early childhood through post-secondary) approach, with learning treated as a continuum from birth through career would eliminate competition for scarce resources.

Despite limited resources, the panelists mentioned a number of innovative early care and education efforts underway in their districts through school and community partnership. It was also noted that co-location of early childhood and K-12 programs and transition activities are helping young children and families have a smooth transition to kindergarten. The importance of early childhood screening to identify health and learning concerns earlier so help can be provided sooner was also emphasized by the group.

If money were not an issue, all four superintendents agreed that they would support access to high quality early care and education for all children with highly skilled professionals who are adequately compensated for their important work.

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Kindergarten Transition Grant Opportunity Announced

Emphasis on Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care Provider Component

The Northland Foundation again announced that an opportunity to apply for $500 grants would be available to teams attending the Summit. The grants will be made to support kindergarten transition efforts. Applicants were encouraged to consider ways to include family, friend, and neighbor child care providers – and the preschool children in their care – in outreach for their kindergarten transition programming.

Teams represented at the Summit must submit their application by June 15, 2009 to the Northland Foundation. For more information, contact Shari McCorison, a Northland Foundation Program Associate.

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Moving to Action and Commitment Card Tallies

Before leaving the Summit, attendees were asked to check off actions they will commit to taking to promote early care and education. In all, 150 commitments were made. The break-out is shown in the following table. The Northland Foundation would like to thank all those who attended the 2009 Summit and will continue to work and speak on behalf of young children.

commitment graph


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© Northland Foundation 2009